Some books I read only one, two or a few pages at a time, savoring their contents and slowly allowing it to be digested, to resonate, to digest me. Daughters of Emptiness by Beata Grant is one of these.
This wonderful collection of poems of mostly Ch’an nuns spans a period of many centuries in China, from about the 5th century common era to the present. (Ch’an/Zen are respectively the current Chinese and Japanese pronunciation of the same ideograph 禪). The translations from the original Chinese by Beata Grant, along with her comments and notes, make these works accessible for all of us who do not read Chinese. And if you read some Chinese you will appreciate the original texts, and see how she poetically offers them to us in English. Much of this work is not even well known among Chinese readers. For the rest of us, this is a connection with and opportunity to appreciate lineages of women Dharma practitioners that we probably did not know much about. The Chinese texts from these women and works about their practice are often not available in English. They have not received much attention by scholars nor are they much appreciated even by the Chinese culture, in part due to patriarchal and Confucian biases.
These poems offer us the fruit of the women's matured practice, their True Dharma Eye. We are allowed to share a tiny bit of their life, of who they are, the clarity and insight of many years distilled into a few lines. And if we can absorb it, we will be able to all the more see who we are, this life that we and they share.
To get you started, here is the poem from the first nun, Huixu (431 - 499).
"Worldly people who do not understand me
Call me by my worldly name of Old Zhou.
You invite me to a seven-day religious feast,
But the feast of Ch’an never ends."
(I have taken the liberty of changing the English translation of a character from “meditation” to “Ch’an” to emphasize the fundamental fact that Ch’an is another word for true nature, not merely the description of a specific act called meditation nor the name of a school of Buddhism.)
If you are interested, the following audio Dharma talk is on a poem from this collection:
(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith